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President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is launching a new television commercial today in Iowa, Virginia, and Ohio. The spot responds to a negative ad by the 501(c)4 group Americans for Prosperity, pivoting to an attack on future Republican nominee Mitt Romney. After the jump I've posted video clips and transcripts of those commercials and the latest anti-Obama ad from the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund.
Two big-spending conservative advocacy groups started running television commercials in swing states last week. As is typical for this kind of advertising, the commercials do not call on viewers to vote against President Obama. Rather, they ask viewers to "tell President Obama" something or other. Campaign finance law limits the proportion of funds 501(c)4 groups can spend on electioneering, so I assume these commercials will be characterized as public education campaigns.
The American Future Fund is airing a 60-second ad called "On the Hook" in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia on April 24. Here's that spot:
Here's my annotated transcript:
Male voice-over: On Tax Day, did you ask yourself [Words on screen against plain black backdrop: TAX DAY APRIL 17, 2012]
How exactly does President Obama spend your tax dollars? [Young couple sitting at kitchen table with papers and laptop, looking stressed out while apparently doing their taxes. Words on screen: HOW EXACTLY DOES PRESIDENT OBAMA SPEND YOUR TAX DOLLARS?]
Billions in handouts to green energy companies like Solyndra, [photo of Obama speaking at podium with Solyndra banner in background, above words "FBI Raids BANKRUPT Solar Company SOLYNDRA" (National Journal, 9/8/11)]
which went bankrupt, sent jobs overseas [stock footage of FBI agent walking toward van, graphic of wind turbines against a Chinese flag backdrop, above words "$2.3 BILLION" to jobs in FOREIGN COUNTRIES (Washington Times, 9/9/10)]
or were risky from the start. [footage of Obama walking through factory with two unidentified men, above words "BILLIONS of tax dollars then declared BANKRUPTCY" (CBS News, "CBS This Morning," 1/13/12)]
Now, we learn that a federal agency spent nearly a million dollars on their lavish Vegas conference, [Aerial footage taken over Las Vegas at night, with words on screen "...$820,000 VEGAS CONFERENCE..." (Fox News, 4/6/12)]
complete with clowns and mind-readers. [stock photos of clowns and a woman with a crystal ball]
Criminal charges are now expected. [stock footage of judge's gavel coming down, above words "CRIMINAL CHARGES RECOMMENDED IN WILD GSA SPENDING SPREE..." (Reno Gazette Journal, 4/17/12)]
And in an ironic twist, the head of the agency couldn't make it to Vegas because she had meetings planned...at Solyndra, a different sort of gamble. [split screen with footage of roulette wheel, slot machine, blackjack table, and the Solyndra headquarters. In the middle of the screen are these words: "Former GSA Administrator SKIPPED VEGAS CONFERENCE for MEETINGS AT SOLYNDRA" (ABC News, 4/10/12)]
The agency's employees also flew to Hawaii for an entire week on the taxpayer's dime [Stock footage of gorgeous Hawaii beach above words "WEEKLONG JUNKETS to HAWAII ...for ONE-HOUR RIBBON-CUTTINGS" (House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 4/11/12)]
to attend an hour-long ribbon-cutting ceremony. [Same words about ribbon-cuttings remain on screen, image on left side looks like government employee relaxing in a hammock; image on right looks like stressed-out taxpayer sitting at kitchen table]
What do those in charge have to say? [photo of GSA official Jeff Neely sitting in hot tub on right, labeled GSA OFFICIAL JEFF NEELY AT THE VEGAS TRIP. Footage of Neely taking the fifth at Congressional hearing on left.]
Jeff Neely: "On the advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer based on my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege."
Male voice-over: And the president? He might say, [Photo of President Obama with Attorney General Eric Holder and Vice President Joe Biden]
"This is a pretty big government" [footage from Obama television interview]
Voice-over: It is a big government. But shouldn't someone be in charge? [photo of Obama entering White House door, before these words appear on plain black screen: AMERICANFUTUREFUND.COM TELL PRESIDENT OBAMA TO KEEP HIS PROMISE AND HOLD HIS ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNTABLE. PAID FOR BY AMERICAN FUTURE FUND]
The Americans for Prosperity group, affiliated with the Koch brothers, rolled out this 60-second "Wasteful Spending" commercial on April 26. The ad is running in the same eight states the American Future Fund targeted: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia.
My annotated transcript:
Male voice-over: Washington promised to create American jobs if we passed their stimulus. [Photo of Obama signing bill, words on screen $831 BILLION STIMULUS]
But that's not what happened [close-up photo of chained gate, apparently at idled factory]
Fact: billions of taxpayer dollars spent on green energy went to jobs in foreign countries. [Words on screen: FACT: BILLIONS SPENT ON GREEN ENERGY WENT TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES (Washington Times, 9/9/10)]
The Obama administration admitted the truth, that 2.3 billion dollars of tax credits went overseas [photo of Asian factory workers, words on screen "$2.3 BILLION" TO JOBS IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES (Washington Times, 9/9/10)]
while millions of Americans can't find a job. [Footage of sad-looking middle-aged white man, words on screen 13 MILLION UNEMPLOYED BACK HOME (Bureau of Labor Statistics)]
1.2 billion dollars to a solar company that's building a plant in Mexico. [Mexican flag appears over photo of solar panels, words on screen $1.2 BILLION... "NEW PLANT IN MEXICO" (DOE Loan Programs Office, PV Magazine, 8/8/1)]
Half a billion to an electric car company that created hundreds of jobs in Finland. [Finnish flag appears over panoramic photo of factory yard, words on screen "GETS U.S. LOAN, BUILDS CARS IN FINLAND" (ABC News, 10/20/11)]
And tens of millions of dollars to build traffic lights in China. [Chinese flag appears over traffic signal, words on screen "STIMULUS MONEY PAYS FOR STREET, TRAFFIC LIGHTS..." "IN CHINA..." (Pittsburgh Tribune, 10/16/11)]
President Obama wasted 34 billion dollars on risky investments. The result? [photo of Obama speaking at podium with Solyndra banner in background]
Failure. American taxpayers are paying to send their own jobs to foreign countries. [Sad-looking photo of white American worker on left, wind turbines against Chinese flag on right, words on screen "OBAMA'S GREEEN ENERGY INVESTMENTS CONTINUE TO FAIL" (Investors Business Daily, 2/2/12)]
Tell President Obama: American tax dollars should help American taxpayers. [Footage of U.S. flag flying, words on screen: Call the White House: 202-456-1414 TELL PRESIDENT OBAMA: AMERICAN TAX DOLLARS SHOULD HELP AMERICAN TAXPAYERS Get the Facts at AmericansForProsperity.org Paid for by Americans for Prosperity]
Neither of these commercials is innovative or particularly memorable, but they use a standard format to send a clear message about the Obama administration's supposedly wasteful spending.
Watching these ads is a depressing duty for The Fact Checker, because many of their claims - regarding "billions" of stimulus dollars going overseas - had been debunked two years ago by our colleagues at PolitiFact and Factcheck.org. Yet here the erroneous assertions emerge yet again, without any shame, labeled as "the truth" or "fact."
The ads also use the old trick of blowing out of proportion small details and then leaping to grand conclusions. [...]
The ad declares: "In an ironic twist, the head of the agency couldn't make it to Vegas because she had meetings planned at Solyndra, a different sort of gamble."
It's much less ironic than it seems. ABC was wrong and quickly corrected the report. Here's what ABC says now at the top of the original article: "***UPDATE:Wednesday morning, sources provided ABC News with records and documentation showing Martha Johnson did not travel to California to meet with Solyndra, and was in Virginia and Oregon for other meetings and activities." Pretty hard to miss that disclaimer. [...]
One can certainly raise questions about how stimulus funding was used and whether it was effective. But there is no excuse for these kinds of ads, which take facts out of context or simply invent them. These groups should be especially ashamed, given that these claims have been previously debunked, or, in the case of the erroneous ABC report, withdrawn.
Millions of television viewers will see those commercials, while only a tiny fraction of them will read a fact-checker's commentary. However, the Obama campaign referenced Kessler's piece in its 30-second response ad. "Swiss Bank Account" debuts today in Virginia, Ohio, and Iowa. In typical negative ad fashion, the candidate approves the message at the beginning rather than at the end.
My annotated transcript:
Barack Obama's voice: I'm Barack Obama, and I approved this message. [photo of Obama next to Obama Biden campaign logo and BarackObama.com on screen]
Male voice-over: "Over the top," "erroneous," "out of context." [Footage from the Americans for Prosperity ad is on a tv screen to the right, next to words "Over the top" "Erroneous" "Out of Context" The Washington Post, 4/30/12]
Big oil's new attack ad. [Label reading BIG OIL'S NEW ATTACK AD goes onto the tv screen with footage from the Americans for Prosperity spot]
President Obama's clean energy initiatives have helped create jobs for projects across America, not overseas. [Photo of Obama next to map of United States covered with dots showing JOBS CREATED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA'S CLEAN ENERGY INITIATIVES. Source is LPO. ENERGY.GOV]
What about Mitt Romney? [Words against plain black screen: WHAT ABOUT MITT ROMNEY?]
As a corporate CEO, he shipped American jobs to places like Mexico and China. [Photo of Romney next to map of all continents, words on screen THE ROMNEY RECORD SHIPPED AMERICAN JOBS OVERSEAS MEXCIO CHINA Securities & Exchange Commission 3/26/93 3/29/03 Los Angeles Times 6/2/00]
As governor, he outsourced state jobs to a call center in India. [Photo of Romney as governor, speaking at a podium next to image of Massachusetts statehouse. Words on screen THE ROMNEY RECORD OUTSOURCED STATE GOVERNMENT JOBS TO A CALL CENTER IN INDIA Boston Herald 2/23/06]
He's still pushing tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. [Different photo of Romney superimposed on photo of apparently abandoned factory building, words on screen TAX BREAKS FOR COMPANIES THAT SHIP JOBS OVERSEAS The New York Times 2/22/12 At bottom of screen viewers can see Obama's photo and APPROVED BY BARACK OBAMA. PAID FOR BY OBAMA FOR AMERICA.]
It's just what you'd expect [words against plain black screen: IT'S JUST WHAT YOU'D EXPECT...]
...from a guy who had a Swiss bank account. [Photo of smiling Romney, with words on screen, probably too briefly for most viewers to read: Romney Failed to Disclose Swiss Bank Account Income ABC News, 1/26/12, APPROVED BY BARACK OBAMA. PAID FOR BY OBAMA FOR AMERICA.]
During those last few seconds, these words from an ABC News report in January appear in very small print below the part about Romney not disclosing income and above the "paid for" message. I had to put the YouTube on full screen and pause to read them, so it's safe to say no real-time viewer could possibly absorb this:
Mitt Romney's campaign is amending the financial disclosure formed he filed in 2011 to acknowledge that a Romney trust earned income from a Swiss bank account, a detail that had been missing from the report.
"An amendment is being filed to address this minor discrepancy," a campaign official told ABC News in an email Thursday in response to questions about the apparent omission.
The president's ad-makers believe that the best defense is a good offense. Since economy isn't very strong, and Obama's favorability numbers are better than Romney's, the incumbent will want to make this election a choice between two candidates rather than a referendum on his own job performance. So, shifting voters' focus to an unflattering view of Romney makes sense.
While Swiss bank accounts carry a negative connotation, this commercial seems like standard, boring fare to me. The most interesting angle is the decision to put it on the air in only three states. The conservative 501(c)4 groups are running their current attacks in eight states.
Either the Obama campaign managers are being frugal six months before the election, or they're not very worried about the other five states. I was surprised to see Americans for Prosperity and the American Future Fund bothering with New Mexico, where Obama has a double-digit lead over Romney in recent polling.
Any thoughts about these commercials or the presidential race in general are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign released this 90-second web video a few days ago. Although it isn't running on television, I'm posting it here because it has generated a lot of controversy. President Bill Clinton praises Obama's decision to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The video reminds viewers that Mitt Romney criticized Obama in 2007 "for vowing to strike al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan if necessary."